Algeria-Turkey: Smart power to consolidate a strategic relationship

By Dr. Arslan Chikhaoui

Image from Wikipedia article about Algeria and Turkey relations available here

Algeria was present at a very high political-diplomatic level at the third summit of the Turkey-Africa Partnership, held on 18 December 2021 in Istanbul. Indeed, the Prime Minister, Aïmene Benabderrahmane represented the President of the Republic, Abdelmadjid Tebboune at the work of this conference, which is a strong message from Algiers to Ankara. This was materialized by President Tebboune’s invitation by President Erdogan for an official visit to Turkey which, according to observers, would take place during the first half of 2022.

This Turkey-Africa summit, the objective of which is to breathe new life into the partnership between Turkey and the countries of the African continent and whose volume of trade is estimated this year at more than 27 billion USD, has enabled Algiers and Ankara to reaffirm the strategic nature of their relationship. This strategic bilateral relations was highlighted during the friendship and working visit, on January 26 and 27, 2020, to Algiers by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It was agreed, then, to intensify the economic partnership as well as to strengthen political dialogue on regional and international issues. In addition, the creation of a High Level Cooperation Council between Algeria and Turkey was sealed with the wish of both parties to set up a free trade agreement.

Algeria is considered by Turkey as the most important economic gateway in North Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa and therefore would be the natural extension of mutually beneficial development on the African continent. On regional issues and in particular on the Libyan issue, the points of view of Ankara and Algiers were finally able to converge for the achievement of a political solution through inclusive dialogue and reconciliation aimed at establishing a climate of stability and prevent this space from continuing to be conducive to the development of Violent Extremist Organizations.

According to observers, relations between Ankara and Algiers have taken off again with the extradition by Turkey of retired chief warrant officer Bounouira close to the former CoS, accused of having disclosed military secrets, who had fled the country the day after the death of his boss and who allegedly tried to negotiate his citizenship in exchange of classified documents he had stolen.

It is well known that relations between Algeria and Turkey correspond to diplomatic, cultural and economic interactions between the two countries whose origin dates back to the regency of Algiers, when Algeria was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. Since the 2000s, relations have been built around key diplomatic questions such as the Palestinian issue, that of Western Sahara and the low-intensity conflict in Libya, in which the two countries are, at present, in agreement through common positions.

According to official statements, new Turkish investment projects will be developped in Algeria in the sectors of industry, energy and renewable energies, agriculture, tourism and health. The Turkish Ambassador, Mahimur Ozdemir Goktas recently affirmed that Turkish companies present in Algeria will continue to invest in promising projects, naming in particular the new project of the Turkish group “Tosyali”, for a total amount of USD 1,7 billion for the production of flat steel in Oran (western province) which will be entered into production before the end of 2023 and will enable exports to the Turkish, European and American markets. The entry into service of this unit will be supported by a dedicated port area at the port of Arzew (30 km from Oran). Among the other investment projects mentioned by the Ambassador, that of the agricultural sector, planned in Adrar (southern region) for a total amount of USD 20 million invested in dairy production aand wheat. In addition, the integrated complex of textile trades of the Turkish group “Tayal” of Relizane (western region) will, according to the diplomat, soon launch another local cotton production project to reduce the import of this material, consedering that Algeria has significant production capacities and experience dating back to the 1970’s.

In terms of direct investment, Turkey has already invested more than USD 5 billion in Algeria, mainly in the steel, chemicals, textiles, medicine and construction sectors, creating more than 30,000 jobs. In the field of construction and housing, Turkish companies have carried out 550 infrastructure and housing projects worth USD 20 billion and Algerian-Turkish Joint Ventures number 1,300. In view of these Turkish direct investments, Algeria is considered as Turkey’s second partner in Africa, after Egypt.

It is clear that the rise of Turkey in Africa is due to the implementation of smart power. Turkish success in Africa can be explained in particular by Turkey’s “human” treatment of African countries and peoples. Beyond the humanitarian aid provided by Turkey to African countries through the TIKA (Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency), the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) or even AFAD (the Turkish Agency for the Management of Disasters and Emergencies), it is Turkish President Erdogan himself who represents a symbol of hope for the African peoples, emotionaly speaking. Indeed, in his book entitled “A Fairer World is Possible”, he denounces the lack of representativeness of African countries within the United Nations system, which excludes the vast majority of the world. During his African tour last October, he again denounced the current functioning of international organizations while stressing that Turkey bore “no stain” of imperialism or colonialism.

According to many experts, Turkey is trying to have an influence that goes beyond its immediate environment, ie Europe and the Middle East. For Prof. Marcou from the University of Grenoble, “Africa is the first among them but we have seen Turkey also very present in Latin America, or in Asian countries such as Malaysia, India, Indonesia. or Pakistan. Turkey is a country which is trying to globalize its foreign policy ”. Discerning observers and experts alike agree that the economy is one of the main facets of strategic cooperation between Turkey and Africa. Based on a “win-win” partnership, Turkish-African economic relations are only gradually strengthening. Another facet that is developing is undoubtedly the security and military. To illustrate this, a recent article in the French newspaper Le Monde focuses more particularly on the case of Ethiopia where Turkish exports in the fields of defense and armaments have exploded to reach USD 51 million. Turkish drones are arousing great interest in African countries. After Ethiopia, it is Nigeria’s turn, which would like to buy Turkish drones in order to fight against Violent Extremist Organizations. It is also worth remembering that Somalia hosts Turkey’s largest military base outside its territory. Prof. Marcou, sums up the strategy of Turkish influence in Africa as follows: “It is a global strategy which aims to appear as an emerging country, less threatening than China, but which at the same time stands out from the former colonial powers with a fairly popular neo-Third World in Africa ”. For her part, Dr. Dorothée Schmid, of the French Institute of International Relations, explains the Turkish success in Africa by “a real policy of complete power where the soft power installed by trade, Islamic culture and NGOs is coupled to hard power with the sale of armaments ”.

In short, it is undeniable that Turkey now plays a role of primary importance in Africa and is developing its relations with African countries a little more every day. As the Turkish game in the Mediterranean provokes political and diplomatic tensions, Algeria has become a solid anchor point for Turkey. Ankara has always viewed a foothold in Algeria as a major step in its influence play in Africa. Undoubtedly, Algiers will build on this strategic relationship with Ankara alongside that it maintains with other key players to broaden the scope of its positioning on the African continent.

By Dr. Arslan Chikhaoui, Chairman of a consultancy and studies center
19 December 2021